A federal appeals court yesterday upheld a decision rejecting attempts by environmental groups to stop rafters from using motors and helicopters in Grand Canyon National Park.
Four conservation groups had argued that the use of motorized rafts on the Colorado River and helicopters to make passenger exchanges impairs the wilderness character of the park and that the National Park Service violated its management policies and federal law by allowing their continued use.
In 2007, Judge David Campbell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona concluded that the Park Service can allow motorized rafts under its own rules and followed the law when revising its Colorado River Management Plan in 2006 (Greenwire, Nov. 29, 2007).
The groups appealed, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday agreed with the decision that the Park Service met its requirements under various laws when developing the plan. Both courts rejected all the claims of River Runners for Wilderness, Rock the Earth, Wilderness Watch and Living Rivers.
The groups had sued the Park Service; a group of commercial operators, the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association; and a coalition of private rafters and kayakers, the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association.
Grand Canyon Superintendent Steve Martin welcomed the news, saying the plan is the result of many years of work "and required making many difficult decisions after considering extensive analysis of impacts and widely divergent points of view on many issues." He added, "We look forward to working with persons of all interests, including wilderness advocates, as we continue to implement the plan."
Jo Johnson, co-director of River Runners for Wilderness, said her group is "extremely disappointed" with the decision. It will continue its efforts in other ways, she said, such as pursuing a congressional wilderness designation for the park or a broader grass-roots effort the next time the plan is revised.
"We certainly hoped for better because the place deserved it," Johnson said. "It's not a negation of what we were trying to accomplish in the end, but it was a rejection of that particular channel for doing so."
Earlier this month, the Park Service proposed to extend the rules for boating on the Colorado River through portions of the Grand Canyon to cover the river's entire length in the park (Greenwire, July 10).
Environmental groups have long been critical of the management plan for the river, claiming that the park's continued authorization of motorized watercraft damages wilderness characteristics of the waterway. The park recommended the river for wilderness designation in 1980, but the proposal has never been carried out by Congress.
Click here to read the 9th Circuit's decision.